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LWV works to change the Electoral College
LWV Erin Ferguson
Erin Ferguson with the Barton County Chapter of the League of Women Voters, seated at right, shares a video presentation on the Electoral College. - photo by Susan Thacker

The current Electoral College system used to elect the president and vice president of the United States has flaws, said Barb Paterick with the League of Women Voters. At a program last Saturday at the Great Bend Public Library, she explained why the League advocates instead for a national popular vote and supports the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The Barton County Chapter of the League hosted the program. Peterick’s talk was a recording of a recent Zoom presentation at a LWV convention in Lawrence. Locally, the meeting was led by LVW member Erin Ferguson and attended by about a dozen people.

Paterick, a member of the League of Women Voters of Oak Park/River Forest, Illinois, discussed what she sees as the problems with the current Electoral College system, including the disproportionate influence of swing states and the lack of representation for smaller states. She also emphasized that without the Electoral College, every vote would matter regardless of the state’s political leanings.

The League lists four major problems with the Electoral College:

• Candidates with the most votes nationwide may not win.

• Votes are not equal.

• Most states are passed over by campaigns.

• The will of the people can be ignored.

The Electoral College is a group of 538 people whose job it is to cast the votes for president and vice president.

Each state has a number of electoral college votes equal to the number of Senators and Representatives it has in Congress. For Kansas, that number is six: equal to our two Senators plus our four Representatives. Almost every state has a “winner take all” system where the candidate who wins the popular vote in that state wins all of the Electoral College votes. Nebraska and Maine do not follow this winner-take-all method. In those states, electoral votes are proportionally allocated.

It takes 270 or more Electoral College votes to win the election.

“The League has supported direct election of the president by popular vote for the last 48 years,” Peterick said. “In the last 10 years, we added supporting the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact as a way to arrive at the election by popular vote until we can abolish the electoral collage by Constitutional amendment.”

Most states tend to vote the same way every election. Kansas, for example, is predominantly Republican and all of its Electoral College votes go to the Republican candidate.

Six states, Nevada, Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are typically “battleground states” where the outcome could go either Democratic or Republican. Peterick said candidates tend to ignore the states they know they are likely to win and focus on a few states. This can lead to voter apathy where people may feel their vote doesn’t matter.

Another problem is that third- or fourth-party candidates can affect the outcome of an election in a winner-take-all scenario. 

Under the current system, “some votes count more than others,” Peterick said. One person’s vote carries more or less weight depending on where they live. Wyoming, with a population of 576,000, has three electoral votes, or one for every 192,000 people. Florida has a population of 21.5 million and 29 electoral votes, or one for every 743,000 people.

The Electoral College occasionally turns losers into winners. This has happened five times:

• 2016, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote with 48.2% compared to 46.1% for Donald Trump

• 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote with 47.9% compared to 43.4% for George W. Bush

• 1888, Grover Cleveland won the popular vote with 50.4% compared to Benjamin Harris with 49.6%

• 1876, Samuel Tilden won the popular vote with 51.5% compared to Rutherford Hayes with 48.5%

• 1824, Andrew Jackson won the popular vote with 42.9% compared to 32.1% for John Quincy Adams.

National Popular Vote Interstate Compact

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, introduced in 2006, is an agreement among a group of states to commit their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the popular vote in the entire election. This would guarantee the candidate who wins the popular vote becomes president.

“To make the compact work, We have to have at least 270 electoral votes committed to vote for the person who wins,” Peterick said. When that happens, “There won’t be battleground states because every state will count. ... Everybody’s vote will count to the very last tally.”

State legislatures can agree to join the compact but it won’t go into effect until enough are committed to assure 270 delegates. That won’t happen in the 2024 election.

It has been adopted by 17 states and the District of Columbia. So far there are 209 votes, with Maine and Minnesota joining the compact in the past year.

A bill was introduced in the Kansas House this year but it died in committee.

“We’re pushing the states who have not yet voted for this to introduce it in the legislature and get it passed,” Peterick said.

The current “winner take all” approach most states use for their Electoral College votes is not required by the Constitution. Peterick cited Article Two, Section One: “Each state shall appoint in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors.”

Ferguson led the discussion after the video presentation, commenting on why she agrees with the League position of electing the president and vice president by popular vote.

“When we vote for Kansas, we’re voting for our governor, and what we want to happen in our state,” she said. “In voting for our president, we are a nation, so that should be reflected in how our national popular vote works. I believe that is the point of abolishing the Electoral College. When we’re voting for the president, we are voting for our nation and not necessarily just for Kansas.”